Head coach Arik Shivek shouldn't shoulder all the blame.
Shivek coaching Israel against Estonia on Saturday night. Photo by Nir Keidar
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In the wake of Israel's 88-86 overtime loss to Estonia, criticism and mutual accusations have apparently arisen within the national team.

Among complaints heard from the players is that certain members of the team go on fast breaks before the team takes control of a defensive rebound; it's likely those who've said that are referring to Lior Eliyahu.

Omri Casspi is also taking flak from teammates who say that ever since Israel Basketball Association board president Avner Kopel went to the United States to meet him, he seems to think he's the team's savior. The NBA player said he knew that after losing its first two EuroLeague qualification games, there would be a lot of complaints.

"We talked about it after the game, but I personally don't believe in post-game talks, certainly not with all the emotions around. There are too many players talking and too many players not listening to the coach." Casspi said the players should stop keeping their noses in the air and start working harder.

Eliyahu said you don't wash your dirty laundry in public, so there was no reason to bring things up that should stay in the locker room.

Arik Shivek said just before the team departed for Iceland yesterday that Saturday night's defeat was the hardest of his career as a national team coach, "and I've coached a lot of teams." He said that in 30 years he has won championships and cups, and one just has to put nights like these behind.

The loss spotlighted issues with which the team must deal, he added, but that he would discuss these issues with his players before he would talk about them in public.

Shivek says he does not think the team's 8-1 exhibition record led to complacency. He said sometimes, when a player is under pressure, his body language expresses complacency, but every player is doing his utmost for the squad.

"The players really wanted to win in Montenegro and wanted to beat Estonia," he said. "To say that the Israeli national team isn't fighting is not being serious. In contrast to what's been said and written, there's no atmosphere of accusations on the team. It's a good atmosphere."

Shivek said that in his worst nightmares he never imagined starting the European campaign 0-2. "If you had asked me I would have said 1-1 would be reasonable although I wanted to beat Montenegro, so the loss to Estonia is my worst with Israel's national teams."

When a team loses, the coach is always to blame, even if the players missed layups and foul shots, Shivek said. One can't be a Monday-morning quarterback, he said, noting he decided not to have his team foul Estonia when Israel was up by three with 28 seconds to go, because his players were shooting poorly from the free throw line and he did not want to get into a battle at the charity stripe.

"It worked for 24.5 seconds, and perhaps after their player got the rebound we should have fouled him because he had enough time to pass the ball to a player in the corner for a three, but those things happen during a game," he said.

Two ways to deal with poor shooting

Shivek said there are two ways to deal with the team's poor shooting - just 52 percent (22 for 42 ) - from the free throw line. He said he can either tell the players to take 1,000 shots in practice or to ignore it. "We chose not to talk about it with the players, but in practice on Friday we emphasized the free throw issue without the players noticing," he said. "In retrospect, it didn't work."

After the loss, Shivek said his players were acting individually rather than as a team, but yesterday he said he doesn't feel the players aren't listening to him. Rather, they were responding to pressure. Still, he says he got angry at the players during the game.

"If we know that the only way the Estonians can get back into the game is by shooting threes, and you let them score four three-pointers in the final minutes, that shouldn't happen," he said. "If instead of three three-pointers we had let them score three two-pointers, we would have won by four points."

Shivek said he may have to expand the rotation to prevent Yogev Ohayon from getting tired toward the end of the game. He said he had Yotam Halperin play the point for several minutes against Estonia and put Ohayon at the shooting guard position to allow him to rest a little on the court.

Israel faces Iceland, which beat the Slovak Republic on Saturday, tomorrow in Rekjavik.